July 23, 2006

Juan L. Mercado

Connecting the dots

Reams of comment have been published or aired on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ latest pastoral letter: “Shepherding and Prophesying In Hope.” The flood has swirled around Paragraphs 24.1 and 24.2 or “Impeachment”—and little else.

A fractured tainted opposition desperately wanted holy water sprinkled on its second bid to impeach President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They didn’t get it.

“Impeachment will once again serve as an unproductive political exercise”, given bitter partisan mindsets and skewed rules, the prelates wrote.

A corrupt cynical administration scrounged for absolution that’d close political legitimacy questions. They didn’t get it either.

In Paragraph 23, the bishops insisted: “Elections in 2007 must not be cancelled”. A democracy “preserves the prerogative of evaluating those charged with governing, and in replacing them when they do not fulfill their functions satisfactorily…”

“No El”, however, underpins the regime’s bid to stay in power until 2010 – and beyond. As a constituent assembly, incumbent legislators would write themselves into Parliament for three more years. They’d vest the President with “Marcosian” powers: from appointing 30 parliamentarians to overseeing the Prime Minister.

“We do not support hasty efforts to change the fundamental law…without widespread citizen participation, total transparency and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion,” the pastoral says. And that task “is best done through a Constitutional Convention”

“Constitutional change must be based on the common good rather than on self-serving interests or the interest of political dynasties,” they add. The pastoral does not mention the administration’s farcical “People’s Initiative”. But hey, you can connect the dots. No?

Many of us, in media, often flail away on basis of broadcast sound bytes or condensed newspaper reports. Few of us plow through the full text of major documents, be it a budget, academic thesis or pastoral.

Deadlines leave us little time, we bleat. That pathetic dodge does not wash. Our glut of patchy reporting and shallow comment sell our readers and listeners short. “Superficiality is the bane of our craft”.

Few of us bothered to secure, let alone read, the full text of the CBCP pastoral. Yet, it’s only eight pages short. That’s a pity. Because the pastoral deals with other equally searing national issues.

We see this “in the faces of poor people, confused by complex issues beyond their control,” the 89 assembled prelates note in the introduction. “With a sad feeling of debilitating hopelessness, they wonder when the seemingly endless political battles in Manila would ever give way to the pressing problems of their daily economic struggles. They (ask) if their deepening impoverishment would ever find a unified political response?”

Consider “Extra Judicial Killings”. Paragraph 26 states that “salvaging” is far more widespread than many suspect. A “great number of extra-judicial killings sometimes do not come to light in the newspapers,” the bishops write. “But (they) are known to us in our dioceses”.

Faith-based opposition to murder is of “long standing”. That is the pastoral’s understatement. The Fifth Commandment came down from Mount Sinai. It antedates, by six to seven thousand years, today’s “outcry of those who denounce the increasing number of journalists and social activists,” supposedly instigated by “ultra-rightist elements in the military”.

“We join this outcry,” the bishops said. “But we can not close our eyes…to killings, reported by our people, as allegedly perpetrated by insurgents for various reasons, as such agaw-armas operations, the failure to pay a revolutionary tax or “blood debt to the people”.

The pastoral does not mention the Communist Party, Bayan Muna and other fronts or party-list representatives. But hey, you can connect the dots. No?

“These we also unequivocally denounce,” the letter says. “The defense of human rights and human dignity must itself be just. It has to be impartial, irrespective of religious belief or ideology.”

Paragraph 28 onwards raises tough, troubling questions: “Are we really without hope as a people? Has “the fact of our being Christians made our society more peaceful, more fraternal, more just?

It’d be easy to “answer no—if we focus only on the many critical problems that plague Philippine society. So far, (these) have been intractable to any satisfying solution. And because of the suffering they cause, we give way to a deepening sense of helplessness…”

But “away from the limelight and glare of publicity”, there is far different — and more hopeful—picture.

Lay men and women, along with priests and religious, “quietly put into practice what they understand Christian social concern means”, whether that be battling usury, unjust contracts, endemic graft to improving nutritional status of children.

In election affairs “non-partisan groups, like Kapatiran and “One Voice”…especially to be commended and encouraged”.

What gives hope for a more just society tomorrow are ordinary citizens who do their duties with extraordinary fidelity, the pastoral notes. It does not say our politicians, left right and center, are inutile. But hey, you can connect dots. No?

E-mail: juan_mercado@pacific.net.ph

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